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New Trends in Public Administration: Reflecting on Challenges and Harnessing Opportunities

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carolyn Mattocks 
July 29, 2016

Public administration is a social science that is similar to history as it enables youth to assess the past in order to create solutions to resolve issues in the present and in the future. In their book titled, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decisionmakers, Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May discuss using history as a tool to make it more relevant to current trends. The discipline of public administration has its own historical context embedded within American government and political science. Public administration is the practicality of these two disciplines which has been demonstrated through presidential administrations, Congressional decision making, strategic planning and citizen focus.

One major question in public administration is how can you reflect on challenges and harness opportunities? Thinking in time helps the public administrator implement current trends which include new governance, new leadership styles, generational change and succession planning, strategic and performance measurement, citizen focus, reorganized work structure and process, e-government and e-democracy, service delivery, innovation, ethics and transparency. These trends were highlighted by Arizona State University Professor James Svara. The need to improve sustainability, along with the persistent fiscal crisis, makes each of these trends relevant to cause the public administrator to think in time in order to implement these trends.

New leadership styles are the pivotal trend that will help government maintain sustainability and prevent fiscal crisis. There are many types of leadership styles that has caused formal authority to become almost obsolete and has led to innovative styles, such as transformational, change agent, facilitative and situational. Each of these innovative leadership styles is effective. But the key to leadership style is leadership ability.

In John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he identifies 21 laws of leadership in order to produce effective results. These laws are applicable to the public sector. However, the three laws that could make a new leadership effective are leadership ability, influence and empowerment. Without an effective leadership style, the government loses its efficiency and sustainability because of the “maze” of bureaucracy. A system of bureaucracy causes a lack of innovation and places limitations on governance, strategic/performance measurement, ethics and transparency.

The transformational leadership style is new and innovative enough to help the government structure maintain sustainability and improve the fiscal crisis. When implemented within a bureaucratic system, the transformational leadership style will help strengthen the relationship between management and staff. This type of leadership style enables the follower to be motivated and inspired and provides challenging tasks which enable them to feel like a contributor.

Embedded within the transformational leadership are the elements of individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence. Each of these characteristics is what makes the transformational leadership style effective. The individualized consideration is when the leader keeps communication open and places challenges before the followers. Intellectual stimulation is where the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks, stimulates creativity and turns unexpected situations into opportunities.

Inspirational motivation is where the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and challenges followers with high standards. Idealized influence is where the leader becomes a role model for high ethical behavior. This new leadership style implemented within government structure motivates the organization to follow aspects of Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline: building a shared vision and team learning, which leads to a commitment of thinking together, which leads to exemplary leadership such as modeling, creating challenges, keeping people inspired to achieve the mission, and creating a learning organization.

This leadership style which has been very effective in the nonprofit and private sectors and the federal sector could utilize benchmarking by examining some of the best strategies. The following benchmarking articles help to exemplify why transformational leadership can make leadership more effective in order to produce a government that is accountable and efficient.

  •  Bernard M. Bass examines how transformational leadership relates to the creation and maintenance of the learning organization.
  • Peng Wang and Joseph Rode explore relationships within the transformational leadership style as it relates to leadership and employee creativity. The researchers use a multi-level linear model to demonstrate the effects of transformational leadership.
  • Bobbi Watt Geer, Jill K. Maher and Michele T. Cole identify the issue of managing nonprofit organizations through transformational leadership and its application to nonprofit accountability.
  • Fred O. Walumbwa and Chad A. Hartnell use the variable of performance and its relationship to the employee’s ability to be creative, innovative and inspiring. 

Author: Carolyn Mattocks is a 2016 Founders’ Fellow of the American Society of Public Administration. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate at Walden University. Her email address is [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

One Response to New Trends in Public Administration: Reflecting on Challenges and Harnessing Opportunities

  1. Julie Ann Racino Reply

    July 30, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Leadership has been found in every research study involving non-profit organizations, business, and the governmental sectors to be the most significant factor affecting positive outcomes. [A bit of hyperbole, but close, including in my national study of community organizations in 1991!]

    In relationship to public administration, which has been criticized for its lack of empirical studies in recent years, political leadership towards political goals is often the “meat of the conversation”. Public Administration Review represents the best thinking at governmental-university-citizen levels.

    James Svara, for example, discusses the politics of Common Council and City Manager leadership with examples of what these officials claim are the public business of the year (e.g., attendance of one officer at an event versus city budgets at education paying for 3,000 personnel at one annual conference; gate for property taxes).

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